- New England Bound: Slavery and Colonization in Early America by Wendy Warren, and: Dark Work: The Business of Slavery in Rhode Island by Christy Clark-Pujara
In 1944, Eric Williams’s provocative Slavery and Capitalism appeared in print. In it, the West Indian historian and later politician argued that the transatlantic slave trade played a significant role in the development of modern Europe. Echoing sentiments perhaps first expressed by Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations (1776), Williams insisted that black history matters. With the emergence of racial slavery in the Americas, once-small and insignificant European nations became major power brokers in a global economy connecting four continents. At the center of Williams’s argument was that the production of New World sugar, tobacco, rice, indigo, and other commodities that made Britain great signaled the advent of modern systems of banking, heavy industry, insurance, and incorporated businesses. In Wendy Warren’s New England Bound and Christy Clark-Pujara’s Dark Work the subject of slavery’s contribution is revisited, and from a vantage point many might consider the least likely of places: the early New England colonies that held, compared to its counterparts in the South, relatively few slaves.
Based on impressive body of archival research (e.g., wills and probate inventories, public and private correspondence, etc.), Wendy Warren makes a compelling case that slavery played a definitive role in the colonization of British North America. By slavery, she references not only the enslavement of Africans and African Americans, but also Native Americans whose bondage laid the groundwork for the former. Breaking with the past eighty years of historiography, Warren argues that the Pilgrims relied on the institution just as much as their counterparts elsewhere. To be sure, it had been colonization’s invisible hand. By Warren’s account, the institution represented the cornerstone of John Winthrop’s Jerusalem, his city upon a hill. “Without others,” she explained, “without people outside the community, who would be left to gaze in awe at this new city on the hill? Whence the point in climbing a hill, if no one remains at the foot to watch? What is the value of salvation without the existence of the damned? And, more pragmatically, how would the colony survive?” (14). Contrary to the current focus on slavery in the colonies in the South or in the Caribbean, seventeenth-century New Englanders were the first to codify race and slavery (1634), were the first to attempt to breed African slaves (1638), were the first to document (1670) an incident of “desperate loneliness” in which “an enslaved African man took a stolen gun to the woods behind his owner’s house, stood the gun on its butt, place his chest on its barrel, and then pull the trigger.” [End Page 336] Troubled by the inhumane nature of the institution they themselves had created, New Englanders were also the first to reflect seriously (1700) on the moral implications of slavery (12–13).
Early on in New England, slavery and colonization emerged together—like conjoined twins. Because most industries there were dependent on maritime trades, slavery resided at the economic base of most well-to-do merchant families in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. In other words, colonial New England proved no less bound by the politics of the institution; rather, by way of the production of food stuffs like fish, corn, and beef, the colonies prospered because of slavery. New Englanders’ interest in the institution, however, first began with uprooting the Pequots, Narragansetts, Pawkannawkuts, Massachusetts, Pawtuckets, and other Indians and relocating them to the West Indies. Indeed, their expulsion encouraged investment in the transatlantic slave trade. “Sugar production,” Warren explained,
dependent on African slave labor, required Indian land both in the islands and in the regions that fed the islands. To cut enough trees to build the ships that carried Africans and goods throughout the Atlantic world, the English needed the land to...